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Hiland girls 'defend' their district crown

Daily Record Sports Writer

GNADENHUTTEN -- It may be March, but the Irish of St. John Central didn't find a pot of gold Friday.  Nor did they find the basket much after the opening quarter.

Two-time defending state champion Hiland held St. John Central to 12 points over a 19 minute span -- after the Irish posted a 21-point first frame -- as the Hawks won a Div. IV district championship with a 65-48 victory at Indian Valley High School.

"Defense.  It's (Hiland's) meal ticket," St. John Central coach Bubba Kapral said, his team's season ending at 16-8.

"Their full-court pressure wasn't much of problem, but the half court is where we went bonkers -- where they had their way with us.  They're just a special team that has been through the wars."

All-Ohio guard Jena Stutzman scored 17 points for Hiland (20-4), Kristi Yoder added 13 in the post and senior captain Lydia Miller finished with 11 points and team highs of eight rebounds and six assists.

Hiland advances to the Pickerington Regional, where it will play South Webster on Thursday.  It will be the fourth consecutive regional appearance for the Hawks and seventh overall in coach Dave Schlabach's 16 season.  Hiland has advanced to the State Final Four each of the last three campaigns.

"Once we caught our breath and realized how fast (St. John Central) was, we settled in," Schlabach said.  "They're the fastest team we'll see from here on out. ... We had to take away the gaps, make them take perimeter jumpers and go rebound."

After connecting on five shots in a row and six of eight to open, and then 9-of-17 total in the first quarter, St. John Central couldn't convert once Hiland got settled in.

Facing a harassing man-to-man look, which included stellar help-side efforts against penetration, the Irish made 11-of-39 shots in the final three quarters.  Included was a 5-of-27 showing during the key 19-minute stretch.  St. John Central also had 24 of its 27 turnovers in the closing three periods.

Natalie Perzanowski, a state champion distance track and cross country runner, led St. John Central with 13 points and six assists -- five helpers in the first quarter alone.

Fellow junior Kylie Kidder added 11 points.

"I thought we could press, but we figured out in a hurry that we might have to token that back a little," Schlabach said.

"But that doesn't mean we weren't able to keep the game at a tempo we wanted.

"(Assistant coach) Rob (Moser) did lean over to me late in the first quarter and ask, 'Can we afford to play at this pace?'"  Schlabach added.  "We decided the answer was yes, that our depth would hopefully be the difference."

Hiland, which had 13 players see action in a tight first half where no team lead by more than six, put 10 players into the scoring column.  It was the usual suspects, though -- Stutzman and Miller -- who helped guarantee a joyous trophy presentation.

During a 15-0 run spanning the final 3:26 of the third and opening 2:36 of the fourth, Stutzman scored seven points and Miller had three points and a pair of assists.  Hiland, which did shoot just 2-of-20 from 3-point range, built its biggest lead (57-33) of the game at that point.

"Jena was again the workhorse, of course, and we asked Lydia to do a lot again," Schlabach said. "She was a kid looking to take over in the second half."

Kristi Yoder, who hit double-figure scoring, did most of her damage in the first half.  As her teammates set back screens,  Yoder worked the baseline and over-the-top feeds to the tune of eight points.  She added four of her five rebounds in the opening half.

"They throw nine or 10 at you ... and the biggest key is there's no dropoff across the board," Kapral said. 

"There's no change in tempo, no change in their approach.  Again, they're just a special team."

Courtesy The Daily Record, Wooster, Ohio

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